A thoughtful piece from Northwest Progressive Institute by Robert Cruickshank about the ever-popular issue of departing superintendents.
The real story, the one the Seattle Times does not want to tell for fear
of undermining their anti-democratic agenda, is one of repeated
mismanagement by a succession of superintendents and of a central staff
that is unresponsive or overtly hostile to the board and the general
About Banda, he makes some good points:
Banda cited the debate over math textbooks in his departure letter, but
these are often contentious issues in any school district. A good
superintendent would have navigated it more effectively, accepting the
board’s decision and moving on. After all, math curriculum figured
prominently in the 2011 school board campaign, and parents had been
vocal in their call for a different approach. Rather than accept the
verdict of the board that employs him and the public that he serves,
Banda – already looking for the exit – used the issue as one of his
justifications for leaving. He wasn’t a good leader. He was a quitter.
I agree with Cruickshank on that last point. Banda wanted things to be easy and when the going got (barely) tough, he headed for the hills.
The larger picture (and the Times vague reference to other kinds of "governance:"
In cities like Chicago, control of school districts have been taken
away from elected representatives who might oppose mass teacher firings,
school closures, and teaching to the test. The districts have been
instead turned over to the mayor, on the theory that a municipal
executive can better oversee these unpopular reforms.
Mayoral control is thus a deliberate attack on democracy in order to
force through reforms that might not survive the democratic process. No
wonder that Tim Burgess and Reuven Carlyle, two of Seattle’s leading
proponents of teaching to the test and undermining public schools
through charter schools, are quoted extensively in the Seattle Times
article attacking the elected board for doing their jobs.
As it turns out, mayoral control is extremely unpopular, and may cost Rahm Emanuel his job as mayor in next year’s election.
What would it look like in Seattle?
If Seattle’s schools were under mayoral control, they would have to
compete with all 27 other departments for the mayor’s attention. He or
she would be able to devote only a brief amount of time to the schools.
Instead real control would be exercised by a bureaucrat who is several
steps removed from the voters.
I really like this part about what a smart superintendent - who truly cared about making a difference for our district - would do:
Seattle residents and parents care deeply about their public schools.
They want them to be great. They have opened their wallets, repeatedly,
to support public education. They’ve elected a school board that
reflects the public’s desire to be engaged participants. A good
superintendent will embrace this spirit, rejecting the undemocratic,
unpopular, and ineffective “education reform” policies of punishing kids
A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll
clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who
treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a
national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads
toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good
The board and the public should be full partners in the process, and
should strongly assert their duty of oversight to ensure the
superintendent and his staff get it right. A good superintendent will
not be fazed by it.
Cruickshank gets the big picture right.
Smart town, educated populace, public school-supporting populace (even as most don't have kids) - so why does our district struggle (and for so long)? How about what he suggests? Embrace this support/caring and strip down to the basics of education first, get those right first and then see what happens.
And yes, a good (and smart) superintendent will not be fazed by involved parents and public (nor will he/she ignore/dismiss them).
Here's hoping Dr. Nyland is just that superintendent.